Free Proxies: 6 Reasons why you should never use them

Karl Baumgarten
July 18, 2022
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Getting something for free is always great. When it comes to proxies, there are multiple providers on the market that seem to give away their proxies for free. However, using these services comes with a high risk. Here are 6 reasons why I think you should never use free proxies (and what to do instead).

How (free) proxies work

Let's take a step back and look at how proxies work. Proxies are a technology that can hide a user's real identity when browsing the web. This is done by routing traffic through a different device and using its IP address instead of your own, and this way anonymizing your online identity. For the mobile proxies that we are building at Proxidize, for example, this works as shown in the picture below:

The proxy client (user) sends a request to the proxy server. The server will route the request through one of the mobile devices (proxy modems) to the cell tower. With residential or data center proxies, residential devices or cloud infrastructure with virtual IPs is used insted of mobile devices as with mobile proxies. The cell tower then sends this request to the public internet, using the IP address that the network operator assigned to this mobile device. The actual IP of the proxy client cannot be traced back all the way.

In order for your request to reach the internet, your data needs to pass through multiple different hardware devices:

  1. Your proxy client (probably your own computer or smartphone)
  2. The proxy server (owned by the operator of the proxy service)
  3. The mobile devices (owned by the operator of the proxy service)
  4. The cell tower (owned by the network operator, like T-Mobile or AT&T)

In any case, there is always infrastructure needed between the proxy client and the network operator/internet. In the case of free proxies, providers are giving you access to this infrastructure for free. There are many reasons why they would do that and we will cover them in the next section. None of them are good.

Reasons not to use Free Proxies

So why exactly shouldn't you use free proxy services? Here are the 6 most important reasons why I think you should stay away from them:

1. Illegal use of hardware

As discussed before, every kind of proxy requires hardware that your request is sent through. In the case of free proxies, these might be illegally captured devices from random people.

Let's look at the case of RSocks, a popular proxy provider that was recently seized by the FBI. They did not offer their proxies for free, but for a remarkably low price. Wonder how they were able to get the prices down so low? Well, they used malware to install applications on the devices of random people, which turned those devices into proxy endpoints for their network. Many free proxy providers use the same or similar methods to bypass the cost of managing the required hardware.

Homepage of closed proxy provider with seizure note from FBI
Website of Proxy Provider that has been seized by the FBI

2. Reliability and Performance

Most free Mobile Proxies are not reliable and offer terrible performance. Their speed is very slow and they may just stop working without any notice. Obviously, there is no customer service available, so finding someone who can help you will be an impossible task.

3. Free Mobile Proxies are not secure

Free Mobile Proxies are not safe and do not offer the security needed. A great article from Christian Haschek's blog about cyber security found that only 21% of Free Proxy Services are not shady, meaning that the other 79 % are. Most free proxies are not using an encrypted connection (HTTPS) when transmitting your data, which means that it is easier for scammers to steal your data.

Besides that, shady proxy services might install a virus on your machine or download a malicious file. Or they could actually turn your own device into a proxy endpoint, which means that you are now a free proxy for other people to use.

Trustworthy free proxy providers versus untrustworthy free proxy providers in percentage

4. Risk of getting monitored or getting your data stolen

Since you are routing all your web traffic through this free proxy, there is a risk that the proxy is monitoring your internet activity. Even worse, it could steal your login credentials to certain websites and personal data. This is especially risky when it comes to online banking and entering your credit card information. I recently saw someone on Quora asking if free mobile proxies are safe to use for online banking. I would never recommend doing that because free proxy providers are rarely trustworthy.

5. Free does not mean that there is no cost involved

Let's say you are a proxy provider with some of the highest quality proxies available. Your Proxies are super reliable, use great hardware, and are very trustworthy. As a provider, you need to take care of this infrastructure. Why would you give away this awesome service free of charge? The point here is that just because the proxy service is free, does not mean there is no cost involved. Many of the free proxy services are manipulating the HTML of the websites you are visiting to inject ads, collect and sell your data or have some other profit mechanism behind the scenes. If there is no product, you are the product.

6. Long-term returns

If you are looking for a one-time proxy solution and find a trustworthy free proxy, that is great. But if you are looking for a long-term solution that is both cost-effective and reliable, you won't get far. With free proxies being so unreliable, you will end up looking for a new solution every few weeks, which will be a huge headache. So consider your time as another form of investment here.

Alternatives to free proxies that are better

Great proxy services are quite expensive. At Proxidize, we are often talking to customers that are spending north of 200k USD a year on proxy technology - which is a huge sum! Therefore it is only understandable that people are looking for more cost-effective options. So with free proxies being a bad choice, what should you do instead?

A cost-effective way is to build your own mobile proxy network. This requires some investment upfront for the hardware but is up to 10x cheaper when it comes to cost per GB of traffic. Besides that, by building the infrastructure yourself you can assure that only the highest-quality hardware is used and there is a 0% chance of any bad scenarios mentioned above happening to you.

Wrapping it up...

What is your opinion on free proxies? Have you used them before and do you agree with what we think? Let us know! If you are currently looking for a great proxy solution, our team is happy to help - we would be thrilled to hear from you!

Cover image by Lance Grandahl on Unsplash

Karl Baumgarten

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